By Iain Gray

PATIENTS will soon be able to see their doctors for routine appointments at Priory and Springhill surgeries, NHS bosses have said.
Since the start of February only urgent cases have been able to see their GPs, a new rule that was brought in when the South Eastern Health Trust took direct control of the practice.
But now Trust officials say they are ‘moving towards resuming’ routine GP services at Priory and Springhill – though a precise date for the regular service restoration has not been given.
Officials said they’ll also set up ‘gynae, baby, and minor surgery clinics’ alongside GP consultations, plus ‘palliative care, children’s vaccinations, and services provided by the treatment room’ at the practice.
In the meantime, however, the Trust is still warning Priory and Springhill’s 14,000 patients not to contact the practice for minor illnesses, instead pointing people towards community pharmacies and an online symptoms checker on NI Direct.
The Trust took over the practice, which is based over two sites in Bangor and Holywood, at the start of February and immediately instituted what local politicians described as an ‘urgent care only’ model.
The move came after the GP partners who were running Priory and Springhill announced that they were stepping down – but despite months of negotiations, the Trust failed to find anyone else who would or could take it over.
Talks eventually collapsed at the eleventh hour, and it’s understood that at least two of the three interested parties who entered negotiations since August last year baulked at taking on an operation as large as Priory and Springhill.
News that regular services will resume in the near future was welcomed by North Down MP, Stephen Farry, who described it as ‘the first part of an ongoing journey to create excellent services for local patients’.
“It is a step in the right direction,” he said. “I want to put on record my thanks to Trust staff for the critical work they have done since taking over the practices at the end of January.
“Many patients were rightly concerned when the practice would treat only urgent medical conditions.
“The Trust has come in at extremely short notice and managed to stabilise a very challenging environment. As a result, the practice will soon have routine care restored, as well as extra services under a multi-disciplinary model’.
His party colleague, North Down MLA Andrew Muir, paid tribute to the nursing, administration and multi-disciplinary teams at the practice, who he said stayed on during the turbulent changeover to help patient outcomes.
“This has been an extremely difficult journey for patients and staff, with the current set-up involving direct management by the Trust a stopgap until new partners [are found] to take over the practice,” he said.
“I understand discussions are ongoing to secure a long-term future for the practice, beyond the temporary running by the Trust. I will continue to engage with the Department of Health to ensure Priory and Springhill get a permanent sense of stability.”
And fellow North Down MLA Connie Egan also called on the Trust to sort out new people to run the practice, stating: “This is just a temporary setup; we need work to find a more long-term solution.”